This is the second of several articles telling the amazing stories about the people and history of the Webb Family paintings that are hanging on the walls in the Kent-Delord House Museum.
The two portraits prominently displayed over the pianoforte in the Gold Parlor are the parents of Henry Livingston Webb, Frances Henrietta Delord’s husband. Henry’s father was Joseph Webb, Jr. and his mother was Abigail Chester Webb. These and other Webb family portraits were inherited by Fannie (Delord) Webb Hall as she was the last of the Webb family lineage.
Joseph Webb, Jr. was the oldest of the six children of Mehitabel Nott Webb and Joseph Webb, Sr. Webb Sr. had been a merchant in Wethersfield, Connecticut and had ships trading in the West Indies prior to his death at the age of 34. Joseph Jr. was only 12 at the time of his father’s death, but being the first born, he inherited the house and the family business. However, it wasn’t until his mother’s death six years later that Joseph assumed control of that store and the trading ventures.
A miniature locket with a portrait of Joseph painted on ivory (date and artist are unknown, but it is attributed to the American School of the 18th century)
In 1774, Joseph married Abigail Chester and they began their family in the Webb house in Wethersfield. Revolutionary sentiment in the colonies was building at this time. The Webbs and the Chesters played critical roles during this period of our Nation’s history.
During the Battle of Bunker Hill (1775), Abigail’s father, Colonel John Chester commanded the Wethersfield militia. Both Joseph and his younger brother, Samuel Blachley Webb fought during this battle. During the winter of 1775-6, Joseph Webb was a generous supplier for Henry Knox’s expedition that commandeered 59 pieces of artillery from Fort Ticonderoga, recently seized from the British. In 1778, Army Quartermaster, Nathanial Greene, sent a letter to Joseph requesting him to supply the Army at Valley Forge with portmanteaus (large, hinged suitcases) valises, and canvas for tents, knapsacks and mattresses to “lessen the quantity of baggage in the army & enable it to move with greater ease.” Greene promised that in short time sufficient money for expenses and “compensation” would be paid to him. That same year, Joseph was appointed to a committee in Wethersfield to look after the families of soldiers who had died as a result of the war.
During the Revolution, Joseph and Abigail had hosted many prominent individuals at their house, including notables of the Patriot cause. Thus their home became known as “Hospitality House.” One especially prominent visitor stayed in May 1781. The Webbs hosted George Washington for six days. In the Webb house, General Washington met with the Commander of the French forces, Comte de Rochambeau to plan what proved to be the final British surrender at Yorktown, VA.
It was Joseph’s ardent support of the patriot cause that ultimately led him to financial ruin. In all his dealings with the American Army, Joseph accepted Continental money. Unfortunately the value of this money depreciated badly so that by the end of the war it was virtually worthless. “Not worth a Continental” was a common saying as the money retained only a thousandth of its initial value. By the end of the War, Joseph found his financial troubles eventually led to him going to debtor’s prison for 12 years!
In 1790 Mrs. Webb’s family, the Chesters, bought the Webb House and Abigail and her children lived there until 1802 when it was sold. When Joseph finally got out of debtor’s prison, he and his family had to live in the Chester home as Joseph could not find employment. Joseph Webb, Jr. died in 1815 at the age of 66.
John Singleton Copley
The painting of Joseph Webb, Jr. is a pastel on paper mounted on fabric attributed to John Singleton Copley. It has been estimated that it was painted in the early 1770s. It is believed that Copley was born in Boston around 1738 and spent most of his early life in that area. Copley has been viewed as one of the greatest and most influential painters in Colonial America. Throughout his life he produced about 350 works of art. Through his realistic likenesses of persons and things, he came to define the realist art tradition in America. Among his works are portraits of illustrious Revolutionary War persons as John Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere. He also painted a portrait of Elkanah Watson in 1782. However, Copley was ardently apolitical, saying that “political contests being (were) neither pleasing to an artist or advantageous to the Art itself.” With the political unrest beginning to increase in the early 1770s, Copley’s Loyalist connections were a threat to his family. In 1774, he decided to go to Europe to study and paint, eventually settling in London where he died in 1815. He never returned to the United States. Boston’s Copley Square, Copley Square Hotel and Copley Plaza are named in his honor.
Abigail Chester Webb (1754-1827)
The other portrait over the pianoforte is that of Abigail Chester Webb, wife of Joseph, Jr. and mother of Henry L. Webb. The painting is oil on canvas by an unknown artist. It is estimated that it was done in the early 1800s. She married Joseph Webb, Jr. at age 20 and moved into the Webb home in Wethersfield where she was the hostess of what was known as “Hospitality House.” Between 1775 and 1797, Abigail gave birth to 12 children, ten of which survived to adulthood. The Kent-Delord House Museum has portraits of five of those children. Abigail Chester Webb died in 1827 at the age of 72.
Our collection of artifacts include a carved ivory fan with the monogram
AC” in the center. This fan was presented to the museum in 1922 from Dr. George C. Kellogg who noted:
“This is the Wedding fan of Abigail Chester [who married Joseph Webb, Jr. Nov. 22, 1774]. Made in and brought from Japan by an uncle of Abigail Chester. Came from Frances D. W. Hall’s estate into ownership by George C. Kellogg who donated it when the KDH Museum was being created in 1924.”